Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz (left) speaks to administration officials about state budget concerns. Listening is Marlborough Mayor Arthur Vigeant.
The House and Senate Ways and Means committees have been meeting jointly since last month to solicit public comment on the $40.9 billion fiscal 2019 state budget plan filed by Gov. Charlie Baker in January.
The annual series of hearings, including a March 19 hearing in Peabody on funding for municipal and school aid accounts, is expected to wrap up by the end of March.
The House is expected to debate and approve its own state budget bill in late April, and the Senate will do so in late May, with the goal of sending a final legislative spending plan to the governor by the end of June.
MMA leadership will be at the hearing in Peabody to support state revenue sharing for local government and to argue for full funding of state commitments to municipal and school programs. The MMA team will be led by MMA President and Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke, MMA Vice President and Norwell Selectman Ellen Allen, Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt and Athol Town Manager Shaun Suhoski, representing the Small Town Administrators of Massachusetts.
The MMA is supporting the governor’s recommendation to increase the Unrestricted General Government Aid program by 3.5 percent ($37.2 million), the same rate as the forecast for state tax revenue growth next year. This is the revenue sharing plan adopted by the governor and the Legislature over the past two years and supported by city and town leaders at the MMA’s Annual Business Meetings.
For school accounts, the MMA is asking the Legislature to move more quickly than the governor on the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission to update the Chapter 70 school finance law. The governor has recommended a small measure of implementation of the recommendations, building on this year’s start, but next year’s plan would still leave the foundation budget spending standard woefully below the real amount needed to provide a basic education for all students.
The MMA will also be asking House and Senate leaders to increase funding above the governor’s recommendation for a variety of key education accounts where the proposed appropriation would fall short of the state’s full statutory share. These include Charter School Impact Mitigation payments, where a now-chronic shortfall is expected to reach $86 million or more next year; special education “circuit breaker” reimbursements, where the gap next year is expected to increase to $32 million; and the several student transportation reimbursement programs, which are underfunded by about $44 million.